Editor’s column was a cheap shot

Published 8:11 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mayor Linda Johnson wrote the following response to Editor Res Spears’ column in the Sunday, Feb. 1, edition (“Take transparency out of the shadows”).

In response to your inflammatory column regarding me and my attempt to “gag” City Council, I must say that you have hit a new low. Do not even try to say it is not personal, as we both know you do not like or respect me. I can accept that.

In your column, you begin by implying that our prayer and closed session votes are not to your liking and then attack a fictitious attempt to control Council members. I assume you created the absurd headline (“Closed-meeting gag proposed”) on Tracy Agnew’s article the day before. Agnew’s article twisted the facts, then you both accuse me of “circular reasoning” when I said exactly what Councilman Don Goldberg said: It is common sense that you not talk about those items enumerated in the law as a reason for closed session, a position on which you agree in your column. Since you agree with that position, why are you attacking me for opening a discussion regarding whether it should be added to the Code of Ethics? More importantly, how is that me putting a “gag” on my fellow council members?

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I spoke to Tracy three times, and it was pretty clear where you were trying to go by the last call. I originally thought she was crafting an actual news story until she asked if I was infringing on free speech of my fellow Council members. At that point, it became obvious you were not interested in news but in a “gotcha” piece twisted to fit your column angle. How sad. Not for me, but for the city and your readers.

You imply that only a few on council have a “legal mind.” I am not sure what the implication there is, but I can only hope you are not disseminating the idea that some of us are not law abiding. That is the only way to read it, since we have no attorneys on Council. Let me remind you that the call for a stricter Code of Ethics came from Leroy Bennett during his campaign. He was in the agenda review meeting when this item was discussed by the city attorney. He tells me that he never knew of the code of ethics that has existed for sometime.

As to the attempt to gag — how exactly is that even possible when a Code of Ethics is merely a code of expected behavior and has no sanctions or consequences if not followed? Your accusation that I am showing an “utter lack of respect” for the new members of Council could not be any less accurate. I have nothing but respect for all of the members, new and old.

It is pathetic that our hometown paper continually works to put a damper on our city. The city has grown and is much bigger than those that think only as you do. Your paper has prospered because of the growth of this city, and you make your money from that prosperity. Just look at your inserts from Kohl’s, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Kroger and Harris Teeter. In your column you would have readers believe that Suffolk is the only city with media messages and that there is something wrong with sending out good news to our citizens (and beyond) of the successes we are having.

Your purpose seems to be to have citizens read your opinions of people that you wish to denigrate. In the same week when we became the home of the Informational Dominance Command — a huge story for our city — our local newspaper doesn’t even choose to put that story on the top of the front page. Then, you end this week by taking a cheap shot at me for doing absolutely nothing but stating the obvious.

You trump up some perceived power grab that I never even thought of. I am not that kind of person. You have repeatedly tried to define me as you want citizens to see me rather than let them see me as I am. I am beginning to think you may actually be concerned that we as a Council will all do well together, and that would make for less sultry stories for you.

It will be Council’s decision what they want in the Code of Ethics. Whatever is decided, I will conduct myself according to the oath I took and my own Code of Ethics, which means I will always act in such a manner as to protect and work for the citizens of this great city. I will continue to be proud of a growing, successful, transparent, financially stable, progressive, diverse and well-managed city that I am happy to be a small part of.

Every day I hear from citizens throughout the city how much they love living here. I also speak with many who are looking forward to coming here. I talk with people across this region and state who tell me how well our city is doing and outline the great future we have. I am proud of the hard work, dedicated employees, strong planning, long hours, and great relationships among regional, state and federal leaders and of all that has brought us to where we are. I am only sorry that the Suffolk News-Herald chooses to look only for the negative, even where it doesn’t exist.

Linda T. Johnson is mayor of the City of Suffolk. Her email address is mayor@suffolkva.us.